Rather fittingly, each table at the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce quarterly luncheon Tuesday was adorned with popcorn buckets and baskets of peaches — a symbol, perhaps, of Georgia's newfound status as an entertainment industry juggernaut.
The numbers supplied by Craig Dominey, senior film location specialist for the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office, demonstrate how important show business has become to Georgia's economy as a whole. The 320 film and television productions that went on in 2017, he said, resulted in $2.7 billion in direct spending in Georgia, ultimately producing a statewide economic impact of about $9.5 billion.
"This industry right now is responsible for over 92,000 in jobs in Georgia, with $2.15 billion in total wages," he said at the Clarence Brown Conference Center presentation in Cartersville.
In fact, Dominey said Georgia is now the third largest film producing market in the world, sagging only behind mass media monoliths New York and California.
"We're kind of known as Marvel South," he said. "They go to San Francisco every once and a while or someplace like that, but most of it is shot here."
And when Dominey says "here," he's not just talking about Atlanta, he's directly referencing Bartow. Two major Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) productions — "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" and "Spider-Man: Homecoming" — were filmed within the county, as have been a number of other big-budget Hollywood productions, including "90 Minutes in Heaven," "American Made," "The 5th Wave" and "Game Night."
The last one, he noted, was filmed at the local airport. "It had a car chasing a plane," Dominey said. "We couldn't do that at Hartsfield, by the way, so we came up to Cartersville."
He said that people tend to forget that the state office has been around since the early 1970s, making it one of the oldest film commissions in the world. "We owe our existence to the movie 'Deliverance,' that started everything for us," he said. "It had a significant impact on the state, especially to Rabun County. It was so impressive that Gov. Jimmy Carter decided to form a film commission to bring more of this business to Georgia."
While Bartow was chosen as the location for several big budget productions in the ensuing decades — including the 1986 Harrison Ford drama "The Mosquito Coast" and the 1994 Steve Martin comedy "A Simple Twist of Fate" — for the most part, the county was barley a blip on most Hollywood scouts' radars until very recently.
That all changed, Dominey said, in 2008. That was when the state legislature passed the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act, a bill that sought to make the state more desirable for film and television productions.
"Before then, we were getting beat by North Carolina, Louisiana, certainly California and New York, and Canada was taking a lot of our business," he said. "So we passed a financial incentive package to bring this industry back and it's been extremely successful."
Whereas other states offer studios rebates — "they basically write checks for people to show up and shoot" — Dominey said Georgia has succeeded at reeling in productions via its tax credit incentives.
"First off, it requires a half a million dollar Georgia spend for these projects to qualify, which most of what we deal with more than exceeds that," he said. "It's a 20 percent base and a 10 percent promotional uplift. Ya'll seen the Georgia peach roll up at the credits of films and TV shows? Well, they're not just doing that because they're being nice, they're doing that because they got an extra 10 percent tax credit to bring it to 30 [percent] by agreeing to put the peach in the credits."
There are other "marketing choices" productions can take advantage of, Dominey said, in lieu of rolling the iconic Georgia peach logo. "If for some reason they can't use the peach in the credits, one of the things that they can do is create these behind-the-scenes videos on our YouTube channel," he said.
Those tax credits are worthwhile tradeoffs, Dominey said, to promote what he calls "film-induced tourism."
"We want to brand these films and TV shows as 'made in Georgia' like any other product, a car or whatever it is," he said, "so tourists will keep coming to us for years and years down the road because their favorite show was shot here, like 'The Walking Dead' and 'The Vampire Diaries,' the Marvel projects, 'The Hunger Games,' 'The Fast and the Furious,' whatever it might be."
Which brings up an interesting question. Since many of Dominey's major clients — Paramount, Warner Brothers, Netflix, etc. — are companies based outside of Georgia, what exactly makes state tax credits so appetizing to them?
Simply put, Dominey said it's because they can resell them.
"They have to spend the money in Georgia to get the credit, and whatever that lump sum is at the end, multiply that by 30 percent and that's the tax credit the studio gets back," he explained. "So they can sell these credits on the open market to a Georgia taxpayer or corporation that wants to decrease their tax bill … there are about 30 or 40 companies that are doing this now, buying and selling film tax credits all day long."
In addition to the state tax credit, Dominey said Georgia is well-suited for film and television productions due to its "state of the art infrastructure, a highly skilled workforce and diverse locations."
Plains, mountains, beaches, vast woodlands, small towns, major metropolitan areas — Dominey said the state can double for just about any place in the world, outside of arctic wastelands. Yet even then, the power of computer-generated imagery (CGI) makes it fully possible for Georgia to mimic practically anywhere (or anything), as demonstrated by "Anchorman 2" — a film that was shot in Atlanta's Piedmont Park, with the New York City skyline digitally added to the background in postproduction.
Although Georgia is a right-to-work state, Dominey said he's experienced few tiffs with organized labor groups. "The unions have a significant presence here, and their workers find a lot of employment," he said. "But we also have non-union workers that are finding work, so I think it's been a good balance."
Dominey is no stranger to scouting out Bartow County for filming locations. He said his introduction to the community was in 2011, when he helped the producers of "The Three Stooges" select the Ryals-Davis House on Old Alabama Road as a stand-in for an orphanage.
"We've been, at the state office, very happy about the support we've received from this county and the city of Cartersville and others up here," he said. "This is a very popular filming region, as a lot of you probably know ... more and more, we have a lot of communities benefitting from this business."
As to what makes Bartow County such an appealing location for the producers of movies and TV shows like "The Fundamentals of Caring" and "The Red Road," Dominey said it's two-fold. "The first thing I think of are the hills and the woods and things like that," he said. "And because you're so close to Atlanta where a lot of the resources and crew are, it's just a short drive up the road to find locations that look more like the wilderness."
Lake Allatoona is a big asset, he said, as is downtown Cartersville. "It's the way the town is laid out, it's very attractive to filmmakers," he said. "You have a courthouse that's used quite often … you have a lot of different elements that are attractive to the industry."
Having a camera-friendly local government, he added, doesn't hurt, either.
"Ellen Archer, our Camera Ready Georgia person, is sort of my liaison into local government, and any time I've ever needed something up here and needed to reach someone in local government it hasn't been an issue," he said, "and I think the productions that have been here have had a good experience."
On a statewide level, Dominey said it's not unusual to have between 40 to 60 projects filming within the state at any given time. While he couldn't give any specifics on the next big productions that are planning on shooting in Bartow, he nonetheless said he expects more films and TV shows to start rolling their cameras in and around Cartersville shortly.
"I know that many of the scouts in Georgia have been up here and shot a lot of photographs and found locations," he said. "So you'll probably see a lot more."